Legendary drummer and Wrecking Crew member Hal Blaine passed away on March 11, 2019, at the age of 90.
Hal was one of the most popular, and most recorded, drummers of all time. The list of artists he worked for, and the hit records he performed on, is staggering. From Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” groups to the Beach Boys and countless other examples—the biggest names in the business—Hal’s career as a studio musician was unparalleled.
What a legacy, and what a life.
This one hits close to home. Beginning in late 1962 with the sessions for “Linda,” Hal played on all of producer Jan Berry’s sessions for Jan & Dean through early 1966. Beginning with the “Surf City” sessions in March 1963, Jan instructed Hal and the great Earl Palmer to play in tandem—in unison—in the studio. All of their parts were written out note for note, and Jan’s original charts and scores still exist. These pioneering dual drum sessions produced a fat, driving sound that became one of the hallmarks of Jan’s productions.
In producing the Wrecking Crew in the studio, Jan kept up a constant back-and-forth dialog with Hal. Beginning with Dead Man’s Curve / The New Girl in School in 1964, Jan & Dean’s albums featured the liner credit, “Orchestra Conducted by Hal Blaine.”
Hal also served as contractor for Jan’s sessions, and often backed the duo in live performances with other Wrecking Crew musicians.
Notable live performances with Hal included shows recorded in Sacramento, California, on October 24, 1964, which became the basis for the hit album Command Performance (1965). Performances for the legendary concert film The TAMI Show followed on October 28-29, 1964 (with a theatrical release in 1965).
In November 1965, concerts with Hal and the Wrecking Crew, conducted by George Tipton, were filmed in San Diego for Jan & Dean’s 1966 television pilot On the Run (Ashmont Productions / 20th Century-Fox). This classic concert footage featured Hal playing his famous blue double-bass Ludwig kit with caricatures of Jan & Dean on the outer bass drum heads.
Hal’s character in the pilot was “Clobber,” the drummer in Jan & Dean’s road band. His gag was, “Have I got the music?! . . . I forgot the music.” “He’s a good drummer,” joked fictional manager George Fennenbock. Clobber is seen with bongos strapped around his neck in segments shot at the San Diego Zoo. Hal had a wicked sense of humor and was fond of off-color jokes—a perfect fit for Jan & Dean. The duo’s comedy series On the Run was slated to debut on the ABC network in the fall of ’66—but Jan’s life-changing automobile accident in April ended everything.
Hal and Jan were close personal friends who often socialized together outside of the studio. Hal was 12 years his senior and very much like an older brother to Jan. Hal was devastated by Jan’s car accident. He spent a lot of time at Jan’s bedside, and played on all of Jan’s post-accident recordings in the ’60s and ’70s, beginning with the first Carnival of Sound related sessions in April 1967.
I am grateful that I got a chance to interview Hal. He was always gracious and loved to talk about his time with Jan, and Jan’s influence on his career. Hal called me after receiving a copy of my book The Jan & Dean Record, and I was truly thankful for his enthusiastic support of the project.
Thanks for the music, Hal. Rest easy, my friend. You had a long and productive life, and we are all the richer for it.
“Here we go . . . Top, fellas!”
Mark A. Moore
Author of Dead Man’s Curve: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of Jan Berry